No matter where you are in your rowing journey, you’re bound to hear the same verbiage time and time again when it comes to how to use a rowing machine. Particularly, that you should push from your legs and lean back with your core before ever using your arms to overtake the movement. (Why do you think Orangetheory coaches chant “Legs, Core, Arms” repeatedly through the row block?) Anyway, while form is regularly reinstated, something that’s not discussed quite as much is how your shoes play into your form. Getting the right rowing shoes can help you optimize your time on the rower.
After all, with the wrong shoes, your feet won’t feel secure in the foot cradle, and discomfort can lead to poor form—and could even cause your foot to fully slip out mid-row. While many athletic shoes exist, few are specifically categorized as shoes for rowing. As such, we chatted with a few pros to determine what makes an ideal silhouette for shoes for indoor rowing. With their help, we came up with the 11 best shoes for rowing.
Best rowing shoes, at a glance:
- Best overall: Nike, Metcon 8, $135
- Best for cross-training: Reebok, Nano X2, $135
- Best budget: Converse, Chuck Taylor Low Top, $60
- Best splurge: APL, TechLoom Tracer, $250
- Best multi-use: Lululemon, Chargefeel 2 Low, $138
- Best style variety: No Bull, Trainer, $129
- Best feel: Nike, Free RN Flyknit, $73
- Best hands-free: Kizik, Lima, $109
- Best fit for women: Rykä, No Limit Training Shoe, $130
- Best barefoot feel: WHITIN, Women's Barefoot & Minimalist Shoe, $43
- Best zero drop: Altra, Escalante 3, $93
What to look for
“When it comes to rowing, you're aiming for thin-soled shoes,” says Peloton row instructor Katie Wang. “Avoid the bouncy cushioned shoes you might gravitate towards on the tread—instead you can go for the classics, like my personal favorite, Converse. When in doubt, keep it low, keep it light, and get explosive in that drive.” To put it plainly, the shoes you run in shouldn't necessarily be the same pair you row in.
In general, Hansen says that prioritizing weightlifting shoes (which are known for being flat and firm) is a good starting point when searching for shoes for rowing. “We want all of your watts/power to go straight into the footplate so that you can get the most out of each stroke and so that you’re not wasting any effort,” she explains. “We don’t want your watts being absorbed by a bunch of cushion in your shoes.”
Ready to get a pair for yourself? Keep reading to uncover the best rowing shoes.
Sizes available: 5-15
The Nike Metcon 8 may be marketed as a general women’s training shoe, but according to Andy Hoang, an avid rower and the founder and CEO of Aviron, they’re the best Nike rowing shoes. “The Metcon is a great rowing shoe with a comfortable heel design that fits well on the foot-cradle,” he explains. “It has an ideal sole firmness, is flexible and durable, breathable, and has a flat profile for maximum force on the foot plate.”
While he recommends the Nike Metcon 8, he also applauds the Nike Metcon 2 (though, those are notably harder to find given they’re much older).
Colors: 12, plus option to design them yourself
- Wide color variety and customization option
- Also great for cross-training and weight lifting
- Pricier option
Best for cross-training
Sizes available: 5-12
The Reebok Nano X2 is a crossfit-specific training shoe but according to Hoang, it’s a great shoe for rowing, too. (In fact, it’s one of the shoes we tested and loved for Orangetheory.) “The design of these shoes is excellent and they offer a good combination of comfort and performance,” he says. “They were specifically created for crossfit enthusiasts, but they are also suitable for individuals who engage in a variety of physical activities.”
Hoang isn’t the only proponent of these sneaks, though. Dani Hansen, Hydrow Lead Athlete, and two-time Paralympic silver medalist for Team USA, is, too. “The Reebok weight trainers and cross trainers are all really good,” she says, noting that she’s a big fan of the Nano X1s. “I can really feel my power translate to the footplate when I wear these, and I’m a very big fan. They’re pretty lightweight, flat, and low cushion which is awesome. I also love the way they look.”
A word to the wise? Get hands-on to break them in. “These shoes are on the stiffer side so I recommend breaking them in a bit by bending them with your hands and wearing them to move around in before a hard workout,” Hansen says.
- Highly recommended by trainers
- Lightweight cushion
- Requires a bit of break-in time
Sizes available: 5-11
Another pair of shoes that both Hoang and Hansen recommend for rowing? The classic Converse Chuck Taylor Low Top. “The classic Converse Chuck Taylor Low Tops are worth mentioning for indoor rowers due to their affordable price and somewhat suitable design for rowing,” Hoang says. “It might take a little longer to break Chucks in but once you get them to flex where you want them to [they can be] perfect,” Hansen adds.
The downside is that, since they’re not athletic shoes, they lack breathability. “They are also prone to wear out quickly due to the flexion required in rowing,” Hoang admits. Still, for the price, and the rower-friendly silhouette, the pros assure us that they remain a great option. “They’re a flat, non-existent cushion, flexible, lightweight, low-top option, which is very nice,” Hansen says. “Get yourself a cute lil’ pair of these and watch your split drop. You’re welcome.”
Colors: Black, White (more options available through Converse’s site)
- Affordable price
- Can also be worn as casual sneakers
- Not much cushioning or ventilation
Sizes available: 5-11
One scroll through Instagram or TikTok and you’re bound to see dozens of celebrities and influencers rocking APLs. The APL TechLoom Tracer is the brand’s beloved training shoe, complete with flat soles, a breathable upper, and a padded heel collar, all of which make them incredibly comfortable rowing shoes. Best of all? They’re pretty much the most stylish rowing shoes to exist. One more thing: While we’ve dubbed them the best splurge rowing shoe, they’re also the best for color lovers, as they’re sold in more colors than any other shoe on this list by a long shot.
- Cool design with many color options
- Breathable materials
- Highest-priced option on this list
Sizes available: 5-12
While cross-training shoes are designed for a multitude of movements, most lack the cushion and flexibility required for running. That’s why the Lululemon Chargefeel stands out. The multi-purpose shoe has a flat (though, comfortably cushioned) sole that makes it work well for activities like rowing, as well as walking, jogging, and running. If you ask me, they’re the most comfortable sneakers ever (and I’ve tried many, many athletic shoes as part of my job). What’s more, since they’re narrow, they fit exceptionally well in rower foot cradles, so you can expect a smooth, secure, powerful row each and every time.
One thing to keep in mind, though, is that these sneaks are made with fabric uppers that feel similar to the brand’s Align leggings, so it’s possible that dirty rower straps could easily leave marks on them. If that happens, the brand recommends spot cleaning them (and discourages tossing them in the wash).
- Versatile for several types of workout
- Well cushioned design
- Upper material may wear easily
Best style variety
Sizes available: 5-11
The No Bull Trainer is another shoe that Hansen and Hoang both recommend. “They’re soft, flat, and low cushion,” Hansen says, emphasizing the fact that they’re sold in low, mid, and high-top silhouettes. “You really couldn’t go wrong if you chose from any of their low-top trainers.” The reason she specifically recommends the low-top option is so that your feet and ankles can move comfortably through the motions of each row.
While Hoang applauds the No Bull Trainer, he admits that the soles start off a bit stiff, so you may want to bend and break them in before rowing in them.
- Comes in both low and high-top designs
- Low cushion provides solid support for rowing and lifting
- May require a bit of break-in time
Sizes available: 5-12
Considering Nike has so many silhouettes, it’s no surprise that more than one of their styles is a top-pick for rowers. According to Hansen, the Nike Free RN Flyknits are flexible, lightweight, flat, and have low cushion, all of which contribute to an ideal rowing experience. “It feels like I have nothing on my feet when I’m wearing them—they’re super lightweight,” she adds.
- Lightweight and flat for rowing
- Sock-like upper provides a barefoot sensation
- Color variety can be tricky to find
Sizes available: 6-13
If you’re in the market for a more convenient silhouette, the Kizik Lima shoes are a great option. Designed with a flat sole, breathable mesh upper, and padded heel collar, these sneakers make for a very comfortable rowing experience. Most notably, though, they’re designed to be put on without having to use your hands. The unique heel design lets wearers step directly into the shoe with ease.
- Easy slide-on design
- Gender neutral brand
- Breathable materials for sweaty workouts
- May not be secure enough for mixed-cardio workouts that include both rowing and running
Best fit for women
Sizes available: 5-12
Rykä is a shoe brand created specifically for women. Each pair of shoes is designed with the brand’s innovative technology “based on the ‘Q ANGLE,’ the inside angle of the quadriceps muscle that is 3 to 4 percent greater in women than men, which impacts a woman’s stance and weight distribution on her feet.” While the brand has a variety of walking, running, cross-training, hiking, and dance shoes, the No Limit Training Shoe is best for rowing thanks to its flatter sole and lightweight cushion, which allows wearers to have a stronger, more connected push-back while rowing.
- Flatter sole gives a secure feel on the rower
- Designed specifically for women
- While lightweight, they have a larger profile than some other picks on this list
Best barefoot feel
Sizes available: 5.5-11
As you’ll see below, our experts are big fans of shoe-less rowing. But, if you’re not ready to go barefoot, barefoot-esque shoes exist for a similar feel. The WHITIN Women’s Barefoot & Minimalist Shoe is beloved by thousands of shoppers for its zero-drop sole, wide toe box, and breathable design.
- Zero drop option for a barefoot feel
- Handful of color options
- Highly-rated and affordably-priced
- Less size options
Best zero drop
Sizes available: 5.5-12
Another zero-drop shoe, this pair from Altra is designed for both running and cross-training. Zero-drop shoes are Altra’s claim to fame, so you know you’ll be getting a good low-profile sneaker, without compromising on cushion. They’re also highly breathable thanks to the sock-like upper and the wide toe box means you’ll be able to use your full foot as you push off on the rower.
- Can be used for rowing and running (as long as you like zero-drop shoes)
- Breathable sock upper helps with ventilation
- Style runs wider than most other shoes on this list
Frequently asked questions
Can you row without shoes?
Here’s the kicker: both Hoang and Hansen say that rowing barefoot is an option. “This might come as a surprise, but my all-time favorite footwear for working out on a rowing machine is no footwear at all,” Hansen says. “Yes, it can start off uncomfortable to be barefoot but once you get used to it you will start to notice how much that little extra amount of power that goes straight into the footboard adds to your overall speed,” she explains. “If you want to try this out, I recommend a good 10 to 20 minutes at a low intensity at first. Make sure your footplate is adjusted to your comfort and put some chalk on your heels to keep the heel cups from slipping. Have a great workout!”
Not convinced? Hoang says that experienced home rowers often prefer rowing barefoot. “The human foot is actually well-suited for rowing and can be just as comfortable as using shoes if you use tape to protect your heel from rubbing against the foot cradle,” he explains.
Can you row in sandals?
While you certainly can row in sandals, you're likely better off wearing a pair of rowing shoes, or even opting for socks. Because they're less secure, sandals can slide around and complicate your foot's alignment on the machine. If your sandals move too much, you could risk a foot injury.
Loading More Posts...